Hello, my lovelies! I have been absent from Austin Writes Music for far too long, but there’s been good reason. I’ve been spending a lot of time over at my other blog, Rock Love Austin, where we just took a trip to Europe and arrived back just in time for weekend one of the Austin City Limits festival. I’ve also been writing a lot for the Horn, where you can check out an interview I did with ACL Fest band Passion Pit, a preview of my top picks for the festival, and a survival guide I penned, among other things. But Austin Writes Music lives on, and I wanted to make sure I posted up a quick day-by-day artist guide for the acts I think you should see. I kept it very simple this time around – just the artist name, the time they’re playing, the stage, and a video of a song I think best captures their sound. I’ll be back soon with a big festival review; until then, do look over at the Horn because I’ll have rolling daily coverage going up. Thanks for reading, as always, and happy festing!
The first band I wanted to see on Saturday wasn’t until late in the afternoon, so I trekked around some early morning mud with Andy while Zack figured out how to get in the gates, and we caught a bit of Phantogram, a band I’d wanted to see during South by Southwest. They sounded quite beautiful, although we rolled our eyes at lead singer Sarah Barthel whispering, “Thank you,” and, “This is a new song,” (to which Andy retorted, “I guess it’s a secret that it’s new.”) The group only held our attention for a few tunes, and although they sound like something I wouldn’t mind dancing around to at a club, the band suffered from another case of, “Wrong venue, wrong time slot.”
I watched Fitz and the Tantrums with Andy and Zack for a bit, but already knew I wasn’t a huge fan after Fitz’ (Michael Fitzpatrick’s) outburst at South by Southwest two years ago — he got incredibly upset about being cut off during the group’s set after the band took ages to set up due to technical difficulties, saying, “These people are here to see us! We get to play longer. Let us play longer.” (Actually, Fitz, I was there to see Miike Snow.) Still, I gave them a second chance, and left feeling similarly to the first time I saw them. Backup singer Noelle Scaggs is wonderful, a joy to watch; Fitz looks like Stephen Colbert with a white streak in his hair, pretending to front a soul band. His voice is nasally and flat, and just doesn’t compare with so many other singers playing that brand of music nowadays. Not my thing.
I raced by my lonesome over to see Dom, who were as adorably snotty as they were at CMJ. Lead singer and namesake Dom riffed with the crowd throughout the band’s set, offering some of my favorite banter of the weekend. Highlights of the banter included:
“This is probably the biggest crowd we’ve ever played to, so thank you — each and every one of you. We feel very, very blessed. This next one’s called ‘Jesus, Hail Satan.’”
“Tuning break. This one’s in the mixelodian scale … J.K.!”
Audience member between songs – “Time to get gnarly!”
Dom, flatly and immediately – “Nope. Not playin’ that one.”
During the song for his cat, “Bochicha”, Dom gave a small grin as a clap-along started in a wave. The band’s pretty, sparkly pop music coupled with Dom’s incredible soprano range went over very well with the music nerd crowd — who I can say with certainty were music nerds, as pre- and post-performance conversation revolved around Pitchfork, who had seen what where, and why someone didn’t get why everyone else loved so-and-so band so much. Before a begrudging, set-ending performance of “Living in America,” Dom tried to get a “USA!” chant going, but it failed so hard that he took a step back, looking distrustingly at the crowd and saying, “Buncha terrorists in the audience.” No, Dom. Just hipsters.
I was probably most excited for the Drums’ performance on Saturday, and they really blew everyone out of the water. They’ve garnered attention from fellow musicians with their throwback pop rock — I spotted Andrew Wyatt and the red headed drummer from Miike Snow wandering around on the side stage before the set started. The band had a great, Ed Sullivan-like backdrop during their set, and pumped out a few new songs that will be on their upcoming album, as well as old favorites, like “Best Friend,” “Me and the Moon,” “Book of Stories,” and “Forever and Ever Amen.” Although they performed their hit, “Down by the Water,” their biggest song to date, “Let’s Go Surfing,” was noticeably absent from the set list. Although this seemed to confound some of the kids in the crowd, there were few complaints to be had. “Money” is the latest single, and got a good reaction, as people twisted and bopped to the beat. There are a few members of the band who are fun to watch, including drummer Chris Stein, who seems the most punk of the group, and keyboardist Jacob Graham, who seemed to be directing an orchestra of one, as his arms waved to the beat in the back. As always, though, I found myself watching Jonathan Pierce most intently. Whereas Young the Giant’s Sameer has a fierce, explosive rock voice and sultry dance moves, Jonathan dances robotically, in a sort of strange, in-his-own-world tribute to David Byrne, and his voice is more angelic and crooning. But what makes Jonathan more fearless than Sameer is that Pierce makes intense and unwavering eye contact with fans as he sings. He’ll linger on a person for a full 30 seconds before moving on to his next victim. It was a bit unnerving the first time I saw the band play, but now, it is something I revel in. The guys sounded totally tight, and the musicianship and showmanship combined made them a band to beat for the whole weekend.
I only caught a chunk of the Local Natives’ performance, but I just had to see my boys before we headed over to Ween. They looked as Californian as ever spread out on the stage, and sounded beautiful, with their harmonies twisting and intertwining in the warm early evening. “This is the biggest crowd we’ve played to by far,” singer and guitarist Taylor Rice said, and it was such a treat to see them rocking it out to a sea of bodies. I couldn’t help but think of the time I saw them in a tiny club with ten other people, mostly their family members, in Austin. Their devoted fanbase is so well-deserved, and I can’t wait to hear what they have in store for us in the future.
Next up, it was time to delve into darkness for some creepy, creepy Ween. The highlight of this set, for me, was the fact that I was able to recognize three different songs with just a teaser chord from the band. I remembered “Ice Castles” from their performance at Free Press Summer Fest, which is a mostly instrumental piece that weaves in and around heavy metal rock chords. I only needed a chord to call their cover of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” and the flute tease of “The Mollusk” was instantly recognizable. The guys seemed to be more out of it than at their Houston performance — Gene Ween mistakenly gave a shout out to Bonnaroo, although he immediately corrected himself — but they were still on target musically, and the performance reinforced my belief that they’re great to see live, but I just won’t ever sit around and spin their records on the reg. The Chicago crowds were far tamer this year than last, but I did get my one rough-up from the weekend during Ween’s set — during “Let’s Dance,” Zack and I got up to boogie, and he accidentally elbowed me in the temple. It ain’t Lolla without some physical pain.
Finally, it was time for the sun to go down and My Morning Jacket to emerge. We stayed back for this set, relaxing in the grass and avoiding the super-wasted dude-bros, drinking in the entire stage. The setup was fairly modest, with a few twisted-looking TV screens and their latest album’s cover, Circuital, as the backdrop: a green, robotic dinosaur eye. I’d seen Jim James and company a number of times before, including their 2005 Austin City Limits taping where Jim leapt into the crowd and ran right into me for a raging guitar solo, but I feel as though I forget just how hard rocking they are until I am back at a show. Nobody questioned it by the end of Saturday night. They kicked everything off with the first two tracks off of Circuital, “Victory Dance” and the title track. “Victory Dance” was particularly powerful, immediately sucking in audience members to groove around, and “Circuital” let Jim’s gorgeous falsetto “Ooh”s ring out in the night air like a friendly siren’s call. The group performed a lot of their hits from Z, which was a happy treat for me, since that was the album that initially pulled me in. “Off the Record” garnered tons of excitement, grooving along with a deep, almost reggae beat, and “Gideon” sent me skyward, leaping up and down with my fist in the air as we all declared, “Truly, truly we have become/Hated and feared for something we don’t want/Listen, listen/Most of us believe that this is wrong.” “I’m Amazed” was the most recognized and beloved song for this particular crowd, but my favorite from the same album (Evil Urges) was “Smokin’ from Shootin’,” which rumbled through the air and overwhelmed us with power and emotion, as Jim’s bellows at the song’s end morphed into “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2.” The light show mirrored the vibrations from Jim and Carl Broemel’s explosive, emotional guitar playing — colors flashed, sparkled and ripped up the crowd as chords and riffs boomed from the speakers — and I heard at least four different people mumble, awe-struck, about Patrick Hallahan’s wild drumming. Hallahan literally looked like Animal on the kit, his hair flying wildly with every motion, and he inserted his signature clock-hand movements near the end of the set. There was no encore; it was the first time in a long time I saw a headliner pack in as much as they could without trekking off-stage, and more shocking, seeing as Jim and co. were dressed to the nines in suits, jackets, and even a vampire cape (on Jim, of course) in the hot, sticky night air. It was what I imagine rock ‘n’ roll should be like; total ownership over instruments, the crowd, and the mood. A perfect ten, and hands-down the best performance of the weekend.
It’s that festival time of year again, and I’m kicking off my season with the 20th anniversary of Lollapalooza in Chicago. Whether you’re going to be up in the Windy City, or if you’re just tuning in online, here are my picks for acts to see and hear.
Wye Oak – Noon, Sony Stage
A woman with a deep, warm voice who shreds guitar in a duo that writes songs to shake the earth. Get up early, or you’ll be saying “if only” down the line.
Young the Giant – 1PM, Bud Light Stage
I was lucky enough to catch these guys at South by Southwest, and they put on a forceful, high-energy show that will set you on fire. After the cool tones of Wye Oak, nothing will be a better system reboot than Young the Giant. Their Jools Holland performance really speaks for itself.
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals – 2:30PM, Bud Light Stage
No matter who you are, if Grace Potter doesn’t turn you on, you’re not paying attention. The sexpot songstress has a powerful voice and booming stage presence, and with her hard-rocking band backing up her soulful tunes, you’ll be sweating ooh-la-la’s before you know it.
Foster the People – 3PM, Sony Stage
I doubt I’ll be pulling myself away from Grace Potter, but in the event that you’re looking to go a little more indie, Foster are your people (oooh, forgive me). There are a lot of things about this band that make me want to call them Yeasayer-lite, but they’re such a new band that I don’t think it’s worth pinning them down like that yet. “Pumped Up Kicks” is their big hit, with a catchy chorus that has some punk attitude.
The Kills – 4:30PM, Bud Light Stage
The Bud Light Stage is where it’s at for afternoon female ferocity. I’m almost tempted to write “Alison Mosshart” and leave it at that, but for those of you unfamiliar with the siren who partnered with Jack White in the Dead Weather, the Kills are her original home. It’s raw, with some pop inclinations drizzled on top of its rock core.
Bright Eyes – 6:30PM, Bud Light Stage
To me, there is nothing else going on at this time. The world stops when Oberst opens his mouth. My fangirldom is no secret, and it does make it difficult to pitch to people who may be unfamiliar with Bright Eyes’ immense catalogue. If you’re unsure about this one, I’ll put it to you this way: if you love incredible, moving writing matched to tons of different musical genres, performed by people who put all their heart and soul on the line, this is your show.
OK Go – 7:15PM, Google + Stage
I won’t be leaving Bright Eyes early, and our team may decide we have too great of crowd positioning to leave, but I’ll be a bit heartbroken if I don’t see some of OK Go’s set. Their 2010 release Of the Color of the Blue Sky is quickly becoming one of my favorites. They are creative artists not only in their musical talent, but also their visual spectacle, and they write hella fun pop rock music that’ll get you grooving.
Coldplay – 8:15PM, Bud Light Stage
It is an honest toss-up for me between Coldplay and Muse; I’ll likely be at Coldplay because I’ll have been standing over on their side of the park the whole day, and because I’ve seen Muse 5 times and Coldplay only once. At their 2005 Austin City Limits performance, Chris Martin was the perfect big rock showman, running through the crowd and climbing soundstage scaffolding, making us all forget our lungs were filled with dust and we were sweating mud. If you’ve never seen Coldplay, don’t let yourself miss out because the hipsters of the world like to make fun of this British hit-making machine. I’ll be the one near the front, singing along to every song.
Maps & Atlases – 2:15PM, Google + Stage
I have only ever heard this band’s name thrown around, but they sound similar to Dirty Projectors and other guitar-leaning indie rock groups, so I’m very interested in seeing what they can do.
Dom – 3:30PM, Google + Stage
I saw Dom perform at CMJ 2010, and they really surprised me. They were tons of fun, like the best parts of MGMT minus the pretty-crappy-live aspect. They can get far punkier and beachier than MGMT, too, and they wrote a song about a cat (“Bochicha”) – I’m sold.
The Drums – 4:45PM, Google + Stage
The Drums are another CMJ 2010 discovery, but beyond surprising me, this band knocked me on my ass. Lead singer Jonathan Pierce is intoxicating to watch – he has some of the strangest mannerisms and dance moves since perhaps David Byrne, and his voice is showy in a playful, almost sarcastic way. The band are all fantastic performers, and the music is catchy and danceable. You will fall in love.
Local Natives – 5:30PM, Sony Stage
My history with this band has been well documented, so I’ll just say – if you somehow haven’t managed to see this band put on their incredible live show, you really can’t miss this.
Ween – 6PM, Bud Light Stage
I’ll be at this show for two reasons. One, because my boyfriend loves this band. Two, because I actually really enjoyed their set at Free Press Summer Fest, because they were silly, haunting, rocking and, above all, entertaining. They’re underground legends and very much worth seeing live.
My Morning Jacket – 8PM, Bud Light Stage
Jim James is the hero of so many people I know. He seems universally beloved for his bear-like appearance, angelic voice and everydude sense of humor. His band crafts huge rock epics that are unafraid of veering into the sweet and simplistic, or out on a jammy limb.
Titus Andronicus – 12:45PM, Music Unlimited Stage
I’ve been curious to see this group for a while. They’re a political, heart-stomping rock group with smart, straight lyrics, which is definitely up my alley. I’m excited to see what they’re like in a live setting.
Noah & the Whale – 2:30PM, Bud Light Stage
This is another band I’m curious about, and know very little about to date. They’ve been spun frequently on turntable.fm, and each song I’ve heard is beautiful and heartfelt. They remind me of a slightly happier Frightened Rabbit that plays a little bit more synth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – 3:15PM, Google + Stage
This band came through Austin and blew audiences away. Unfortunately, I missed their set, so I won’t make the same mistake at Lolla. I expected something like country rock based on the group’s name, but they’re a prefect blend of airy and poppy.
Flogging Molly – 4:15PM, Bud Light Stage
Raucous, familial Irish punk rock on the same label as Gogol Bordello (and rightfully so). After a rocky first experience with Flogging Molly (when another concert-goer threw up on my shoes), I’ve never been disappointed in their live show. They stopped by Stubb’s a few months ago and totally blew me away. Be careful, though – Chicagoans have proven to me they’ll crowd surf and circle pit for just about anything, so this is bound to be wild.
Lissie – 4:30PM, Google + Stage
It excites me to see so many strong, incredible, uplifting female voices on the Lollapalooza lineup. Lissie has a classic attention-grabbing voice that emotes over folksy rock tunes. She can use it subtly, and then let it explode when it’s called for. She’s also totally precious, the kind of artist you root for because she is deep-down good-natured.
Cage the Elephant – 5:15PM, PlayStation Stage
I tended to roll my eyes at Cage the Elephant at first – their two big hits, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” and “In One Ear” sounded near identical to me, so I wasn’t particularly interested. However, “Shake Me Down” won me over immediately, and I’ve heard stories about how wild and energetic the bands’ live show can get. Seems to me like this is gonna be straightforward alt-rock fun, and I wouldn’t miss it.
Foo Fighters – 8PM, Music Unlimited Stage
I’ve never been a huge fan of the Foo Fighters. I loved “Learn to Fly,” but all the other songs in their enormous catalogue sounded the same to me, and I wasn’t a Nirvana diehard, either, so it was hard for me to be nostalgic about them. However, I’ve recently fallen in love with their covers album, and have enjoyed Dave Grohl’s sense of humor in various online forums. Plus, I have been promised time and again that they put on an unforgettable live show, and I wouldn’t want to end my festival experience without the Festival Crashers, so this is where you’ll find me, happily head-banging and fist-pumping along.
Kid Cudi – 9PM, Perry’s
I won’t be able to sneak away for this, but if you can, I highly recommend running over to see Kid Cudi on festival founder Perry Farrell’s stage. Cudi bends genre rules, rapping and singing with indie rockers to make music that appeals to all stripes. My younger brother introduced me to Cudi, explaining his intense past and how impressive his mixtapes were when he was starting out.
In the first days of 2009, a hard-rocking, fun-loving group of guys from California made a huge impression on me. I was leaning up against the fence of the Beauty Bar in Austin, Texas with a friend, bored and unsure of what to do that dreary weeknight, when some tall, scrappy dudes boisterously busted through the Beauty Bar’s doors, musing aloud, “We’ve gotta find some people to come to this show!” Our eyes immediately met, and they asked, “Will you come to our show?” Asked who they were, they replied happily that they were in a band called Voxhaul Broadcast, and their buddies with them were in a band called the Union Line, and that their other friends, the Local Natives, were soundchecking inside. At the time, none of these names meant anything to us, but their chutzpah was so endearing that we headed inside. About ten other people joined us and we all had our minds collectively blown. A few months later, the Local Natives exploded at South by Southwest.
I’m forever indebted to the Voxhaul Broadcast guys for pulling us into the venue, and I’m both thrilled and unsurprised that they’ve met so much success since then. The band put our their debut full-length album, Timing is Everything, in late March, and are currently on tour with Rooney and Skybomber.
Though the first Voxhaul Broadcast recording, the EP Rotten Apples, came out in 2008, the band has been jamming together since their early teens, and a couple have known each other since they were in diapers.
“Tony [Aguiar] and Kurt [Allen], the guitar player and the drummer, they’ve known each other since they were like 3 or 4, playing out in the street,” lead vocalist and guitarist David Dennis says. “And I met Phil [Munsey] when I was 14, so we’ve all known each other quite a while.”
Dennis says the group’s longtime bond is reflected in the group’s music. “We pretty much learned how to play our instruments with each other. So, it’s really comfortable. It’s really comfortable to write and be in a band with each other and be with each other on the road, ‘cause we’re like brothers as much as friends, you know? It’s been one of those things where I think it makes for honest music. When people have known you for that long, they call you out on your shit; they really know who you are. You’re not fooling anybody.”
The guys have had musical leanings for a long time. Aguiar remembers when he and Allen were around eleven years old, yearning to somehow make it out to Woodstock ’99. “Instead of going, me and Kurt just decided to get a boombox and overflow my mom’s whole front yard with water and mud, and just jumped in it,” Aguiar says. “We destroyed my mom’s entire front lawn. And little did we know that they put insecticide in the grass that day, so me and Kurt ended up with rashes all over our bodies for, like, weeks.”
The band’s occasionally wild enthusiasm has not died down over the years. Touring around the country has allowed for many more adventures. “One time we were in Santa Cruz, and these people wanted us to come over to their house and we were like, ‘OK! They seem cool!’ And then we go buy a bunch of beer, and everybody’s drinking and having a good time, and then this person walks in and starts yelling and freaking out, and we suddenly realize that we’ve got a bunch of people living in a halfway home drunk. That was pretty bad,” Dennis says.
More recently, the guys had a brief encounter with the law that ended up winning them a few new fans. “We got pulled over two days ago by a state trooper, and he took all of Phil’s pot,” Dennis says, laughing. “But he was really nice. He let us go, and the cops were making jokes. We ended up giving them a CD and they never gave us a ticket. They were like, ‘Ah man, I’m gonna look you guys up!’”
In their early touring days, Voxhaul Broadcast had to rely on the kindness of strangers to make things work, sleeping on floors and sharing gear with their fellow touring bands. Still, there were rough nights.
“We were driving through the mountains, up this hill, and there were semi-trucks slipping down the hill from the black ice,” Dennis says. “We didn’t have chains on our tires and the police wouldn’t let us go any further, so we pulled over in this town. This is in the middle of a blizzard, and all the hotels were taken up, because they already had turned a bunch of people in. We ended up – all four of us – sleeping in the van during a blizzard. It was one of the most awful nights ever.”
Things have improved since then. Now, the guys are trying to learn from veterans like Rooney. “Rooney have this air about them,” Dennis says. “I really like to hang out with dudes that tour that much, they kinda know how it works. We haven’t gone on a lot of big tours, so it’s been cool to chat with them.”
Even though Voxhaul Broadcast aren’t as veteran as Rooney, they know the ropes and know what it takes to make it in a band. “There are so many great bands in L.A., so many that I feel are as good as us, if not better, you know? And some of them don’t get recognized at all. So it’s really about the people believing in you and pushing you,” Dennis says. “And it’s one of those things that you really gotta love doing. If you think you have something else that would be worth your while and make you just as happy, you should probably do that.
“You’re not gonna make a ton of dough. Well, I mean; no … that’s not…true. You will make a ton of dough. But it might take a really long time. And you have to give up a lot of other things. It’s really hard to be in relationships and all that kinda shit. To keep friendships. You really have to be committed. There’s a lot of hard times before the good times, for sure.”
It would seem Voxhaul Broadcast are hurtling into their good times. After a killer run at this year’s South by Southwest music conference, and back-to-back tours with Rooney and the Airborne Toxic Event, the band is hoping to keep plugging along and making progress. They’ve also already outlined the Holy Grail band goal they want to achieve.
“One of our ultimate goals we always talk about is, like, if we were as big as U2 and we just needed to go a step further, we would wanna be the first band to record a record on the moon,” Dennis says. With one eye on the moon, the band is pleased with where they’re headed on Earth for the time being.
“If we just keep on playing shows and hope that people like the music that we’re writing, we’ll keep on enjoying what we do and we’ll hope that other people do, too.”
Voxhaul Broadcast will open for Skybomber and Rooney tonight at Emo’s. They’ll be back in Austin May 22, opening for the Airborne Toxic Event at La Zona Rosa.
In very early 2009, I was standing outside of the Beauty Bar in downtown Austin, Texas with my friend Eric, leaning up against the fence on a Wednesday night, trying to figure out what to do. There were grunts and groans from instruments coming out of the door to the venue, but other than a presumable sound check, there appeared to be nobody in the place, so Eric and I were prepared to find a different haunt. Just as we were deciding which street to wander down, a group of scraggly, rowdy guys came bursting through the Beauty Bar door, and the tallest shouted, “It’s time to find people to come to this show!!” This caused me to turn, and the tall dude saw me and asked, “Do you guys wanna see a show? It’s great!” I asked him who was playing, and he said, “Well, we’re in a band called Voxhaul Broadcast, and we’re playing with the Union Line, which is the band these guys here are in, and then the Local Natives are setting up right now, they go on in about half an hour.” I looked at Eric, we shrugged and said, “Sure!” I asked where the guys were from, and they said California. I nodded, and we promised the guys we’d head inside. About fifteen minutes later, we wandered in to join maybe 3 other people in the room. When the Local Natives began to play, it felt like it was for us and the bartenders. I remember being immediately drawn to “Airplanes,” and I remember the energy infused in “Sun Hands.” I became a total advocate that night, and was sorely disappointed to discover this Silverlake gem hadn’t recorded a full album yet, but I bought their split 7” that had “Airplanes” on one side, a Union Line song on the other. I chatted with their sweet drummer Matt, who informed me they’d be back for South by Southwest a few months later.
Flash forward to April 23, 2010. I arrive at Antone’s on 5th street at 10 p.m. to a line snaking around the venue. Doors opened a few moments later, and we masses poured into the building, trying to stake out space close to the stage. By the time the Local Natives took the stage a little over an hour later, bodies filled every inch of space, jostling into one another, stepping on toes and craning necks to see over the forest of people around them. The band still sound checked themselves, exemplifying the strange space this band lives in – huge and completely deserved success garnered at a stupefying breakneck speed. Of course, the band has been working for years (previously with a slightly different lineup under the moniker Cavil At Rest.) They played through their entire album; yep, they now have a full-length album out on their label, Frenchkiss, called Gorilla Manor. Highlights included the sultry “Cards & Quarters,” with a completely jammable beat, the soaring harmonies in “Airplanes” which led to a solid three minutes of audience applause as the gentlemen of the band stood in complete awe, with the biggest grins on their faces and practically shaking their heads in disbelief, and the night’s encore and closer, “Sun Hands,” which exploded in rock and prompted some (read: me) to leap up and down in a rapturous state of mosh.
I was completely lucky to stumble upon this band over a year ago, and could not be happier for them in all of the success they’ve experienced in such a short time. If you’ve yet to join the Local Natives fan base, but you like sweeping melodies, thumping rhythms, rich harmonies and Talking Heads covers, don’t waste another second – become a part of their incredible success story. Just walk through the door.